Reports highlight world of Māori tech potential

Published on the 11/07/2023 | Written by Heather Wright

From growing businesses to insight into educational needs…

A new report mapping the Māori tech sector has recommended the creation of a Government Māori chief data and digital steward position and a Te Tiriti-centric Māori Tech Digital unit to help drive Māori-led technological development.

The Mapping the Māori Tech Sector 2023 Report also calls for building awareness to better understand technology innovation, and more support to encourage Māori into the tech sector.

It follows recent calls for more rangatahi/young people to join the gaming and technology workforces, with digital studios worldwide calling out for indigenous storytelling and voices.

“Most Māori-owned tech companies have a different feel to them.”

The Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan, launched in May, also has enriching Māori inclusion and enterprise as one of the key immediate focus areas, while the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa’s flagship initiatives include accelerating Māori innovation and Māori Data Governance.

The Mapping the Māori Tech Sector 2023 Report was unveiled last week by whanau-led social enterprise Making Everything Achievable (MEA). It surveyed those learning tech skills, young people, Māori owners of tech companies and the broader tech ecosystem players encouraging Māori into tech opportunities. Eighty-four participants took part, with 19 companies involved.

With the wider Kiwi tech sector desperate for talent, the report also highlights a key motivation Māori – not the financial and personal factors such as building their own reputation, but instead a focus on ways to improve the well-being of whānau and community.

Respondents also indicated pursuing further learning in traditional settings using traditional approaches was the least preferred option for gaining the technology skills needed to work in the sector. Instead, they were keen to see Kaupapa Māori approaches, including overnight and/or day facilitated wananga/learning and online learning.

A mixed-mode of real-time technologies, including video-conferencing, classroom and online activities as part of a ‘learn as you work’ approach was most favoured, with participants enjoying situations where classrooms were not a prerequisite for course completion.

Among its other recommendations were a call for all Crown-funded boards to have a clause recognising co-governance and seats for Māori tech representatives equal to the Māori population percentage, and an all-of-government stocktake of all Māori tech initiatives and the creation of a Māori tech strategy that recognises the disparities facing Māori in technology.

The call for future lead tech research to be co-designed with Māori and using Kaupapa Māori research methodologies was also included.

Mapping the Māori Tech Sector 2023 Report is the second report deep diving into the role of Maori in technology in recent months.

Earlier this year the first ever Toi Hangarau: A Report on Māori-owned Technology Companies 2023 report showed a thriving ecosystem of small and mid-sized businesses.

It also highlighted that a higher proportion of Māori technology workforces are grown within Māori-owned enterprises (defined by the report as having at least one owner with Māori whakapapa, descended from Māori or identifying as Māori), than anywhere else.

The 72 companies included in the report employ 1,310 people across New Zealand, with an average of just over 18 staff. Around half of the companies covered have revenue in excess of $1 million with nine earning more than $5 million, and 32 percent of the 72 companies are operating internationally.

Among the top nine companies who earned up to $73 million in the last financial year, all are at least 11 years old, and 89 percent have international markets, operating in cloud, and human-machine interface.

The Māori economy has grown from $16 billion to $70 billion in the past decade, ahead of the overall economy. Come 2030, it’s expected to crack $100 billion. Much of it, however, is focused around the primary sector.

Toi Hangarau, produced by Pāua Interface, highlights concerns that the widespread technological disruption, and a lack of participation by Māori in tech jobs could have economic, social and political ramifications.

“Given the limitations of Māori technology participation and capability overall, we believe that Māori-owned technology companies and their workforces may be best placed to respond to upcoming disruptions – but are not yet strongly positioned to do so,” Toi Hangarau says.

“An accelerated uplift in capability and growth is necessary.”

It identified cybersecurity and cloud computing as the two largest technology skills gaps, requiring ‘persistent responses’.

Dave Moskovitz, professional director and early stage investor who has collaborated with Māori organisations notes that the very thing that makes Māori-owned tech companies interesting as an investment opportunity can make it more difficult to compare to other companies.

“Most Māori-owned tech companies have a different feel to them,” he says in the report.

“This can cut both ways. Investors like to be able to compare opportunities to other companies we’ve seen before, in terms of purpose, people, intellectual property, markets, product, metrics and more.”

The current tight investment market, is a dual challenge for Māori companies, who Moskovitz says will likely need to work harder to attract non- Māori investors, and who will need to ensure they choose investors aligned to their Kaupapa.

“Getting out of an investment relationship can be a lot harder than getting out of a marriage, so it’s important that founders and investors get to know each other, do their respective due diligence on each other and build a relationship that is based on aligned goals and mutual respect.”

Toi Hangarau aims to provide ongoing benchmarking Māori-owned tech enterprises and the funders and investors enabling them to provide a clear view on how owners, funders and investors can invest wisely for high-value returns.

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